Lincoln College likes very much to boast about its reputation for the best food in Oxford – something which had me, an unashamedly pretentious foodie, rather excited before my arrival. And they certainly seem eager to cultivate this reputation, strewing the menu liberally with ‘rissolés’ and ‘supremes’ of various cuts of meat. I am unable to comment on these quintessentially Lincoln dishes, being a vegetarian – and therefore, sadly overlooked, it seems, by the catering system, which require vegetarians to sign up for food when others don’t (disastrous, for a poor organiser like me).
But perhaps it seems outdated to talk about vegetarianism – now, it would seem, a rather old-fashioned term, redolent of fusty dishes such as stuffed peppers (another Lincoln staple, although a surprisingly well-executed one in my experience. The same cannot be said for the mushroom vol-au-vents, another 70s vegetarian throwback wheeled out as one of a series of intensively mushroom-based dishes). It’s World Vegan Day this Friday: perhaps I should mention Lincoln’s vegan food. Well, to do so is to mention Lincoln’s vegetarian food – only substitute the prodigal amount of cheese for an equally prodigal amount of vegan ‘cheese’, which always seems slightly reluctant to melt, and lies sadly and lethargically on the surface of the dish (a quality of the stuff that has always seemed to me, perhaps prejudicially, as somewhat mimetic of the more uptight attitudes associated with a vegan diet).
Don’t mistake this for bitching: I love cheese, even – almost – as much as the menu planners love cheese. And, as the stuffed peppers testify, some of the Lincoln dishes manage to come at least slightly closer to elegance than much food served in a canteen would. But the food here is a rather strange mixture of such aims at old-fashioned smart dinners, and some decidedly (but often wonderfully) lowbrow food: at the last formal I went to, I was served macaroni cheese with a side of sweet potato fries. Sinking a fork into the plateful of creamy, sweet, tangy stodge was an immensely comforting experience, if somewhat incongruous with the candlelit and oak-panelled setting. So, in summary, the Lincoln hall food is rather miscellaneous – sometimes seeming as though it suffers from a misguided self-consciousness about its own reputation (I’m looking at you, vol-au-vents). Often, too, though, I am reminded of why this reputation exists – just make sure you like (fake?) cheese.